Dr. Guy Bluford, astronaut trailblazer|
September 3, 2002 — Selected among the first class of space shuttle astronauts, Guy Bluford, Jr., Ph.D., was the first African-American to fly in space as a member of the STS-8 crew in 1983.
collectSPACE spoke with Dr. Bluford on the anniversary of his flight:
Where do you feel STS-8 fits into space history?
It was the first night launch and the first night landing of the shuttle. So we had to, as a crew, figure out the techniques that were required to launch the thing at night and as well as land the thing at night.
I think that was the most significant thing, particularly in reference to space exploration history, that STS-8 was responsible for.
You hold the distinction of being one of the "firsts." How did it affect your space flight career?
It gave me a lot more publicity than I had anticipated. Being the first was not a desire of mine, but I am pleased to be in that situation.
I felt that I was a trailblazer, and I feel very proud of being a trailblazer with reference to space flight, particularly for African-Americans. I recognize I was one of several African-Americans that came into the program, and I think we have all made significant contributions to the program.
NASA's own description of STS-8 leads with your role as the first African American in space. Do you appreciate the attention or would your rather NASA focus the mission itself?
I think NASA handles this pretty well. They do focus on the mission, and they do acknowledge the fact that I flew on STS-8. It was a big thing that I did fly, so you can't hide that, and it was a significant event for African-Americans.
So, I think NASA handles it well. There were things accomplished: we deployed a satellite called INSAT-1B, we did some work with the Remote Manipulator Arm, we did some work on man's adaptation to zero-g, and we did some experiments on electrophoresis. So, we did a lot of good stuff on STS-8, and yes, there was the historical fact that I flew.
Among the payloads aboard STS-8 were 260,000 postal covers for the USPS to sell post-flight. Did you support the idea of their flight and sale?
I don't know if I can say that I supported it, it was something the U.S. Postal Service wanted to put aboard the shuttle. They were put in a Getaway Special.
I see a lot of those postal covers when they come by my desk for signature. I have no problem with that.
I think it was a good idea for the U.S. Postal Service to get some additional revenues and to highlight the U.S. Postal Service. It was just another payload in my mind, on STS-8.
Did you keep a cover for yourself?
The U.S. Postal Service gave me one.
What items did you fly as souvenir of your flight?
Interestingly enough, each of the flights has medallions that are created for it -- medallions that are in the shape of the patch. I normally flew silver medallions, a few gold medallions on each of the flights, and then I used those medallions as gifts.
Was there any particular item you treasure most?
No, there really isn't any particular item that I treasure from any of the flights. The only thing I flew for myself were the medallions, and I used those as gifts.
Only two members of your astronaut class, the "Thirty Five New Guys," remain active (Anna Fisher and Steve Hawley). What do you think are the legacies of your class?
I think the greatest legacy was that our class was the first to be selected to fly the Space Shuttle. We came on-board to help to open up the way for flying in space, and everybody in our class had an opportunity to fly. Some flew just once, others have flown up to five times.
So I think getting the Shuttle off the ground for the first time, and doing some of the test flights, and supporting some of the earlier missions is really the legacy of our particular class.
You are credited with originating the idea for the TFNG class patch. Can you share how it came about?
I worked on the patch. Interestingly enough, I got an artist by the name of Bob McCall, to draw up the patch for us. The 'Thirty-Five New Guys' symbol was really generated by Judy Resnik. So we decided we wanted a patch, and I was the guy who sort of worked the patch.
Nineteen years after STS-8 what are you focusing your life on today?
I am in career number three. I am working in industry. I am charting a career in aerospace. I take a great deal of pride in the fact that I have spent a great deal of time in the Air Force and I have spent a great deal of time in NASA.
Are you still involved with any space-related activities?
I am definitely involved in space-related activities and I hope to continue to do that. I serve on two Boards of Directors that support space activity. I serve on the Board of Directors of the Aerospace Corporation on the west coast, and I also serve Board of Directors of the U.S. Space Foundation in Colorado Springs.
What do you think of the state of space exploration today?
I think its starting to mature out of the sense that we are comfortable flying to build the International Space Station. I am concerned about the fact that the shuttle is getting older and older, and so we have to look at replacing it.
I sense that we will have the space station built by 2006 and we have reached the point there is constantly three people on orbit right now on the International Space Station. So space exploration is starting to mature, at least in reference to near-Earth orbit.
Where do you think NASA should be focusing?
I think NASA's focus is in the right direction. They need to continue to build the International Space Station. I think that will be a wonderful facility for many years to come. They are going to have to eventually replace the Space Shuttle, which right now is approximately 20 years old. Then, they have to eventually branch out beyond our own planet, and I suspect they will either start looking at going to Mars or going to the Moon, whichever is the best option.
Right now, the short term is to continue to build the International Space Station and to look at replacing the Space Shuttle.
collectSPACE thanks The Space Agency for their help arranging the interview with Dr. Bluford.
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